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  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

A memorial bear

My Dad’s old teddy inadvertently led me to a family history discovery this week. But, as is often the case in these situations, it raised more questions than it answered.

Yesterday was the five-year anniversary of my dad’s death. Recently, as some of you may recall, I’d dug out a tape recording of my dad talking about his childhood and early life (see Revisiting Memories). Much of it I’d already transcribed, but I thought it was about time I typed up the rest of it, only to find that the Dictaphone we’d used wasn’t working. Later, I’d discovered that the machine had been put on the slow setting and a flick of the switch had solved the problem! Doh!

However, when I came to rewind the tape back to the beginning, disaster struck. The tape snapped, leaving the end lost inside the cassette casing and therefore unable to play.

Unlike their larger cousins, mini-tapes aren’t held together with screws, so with no obvious way to get inside and retrieve the loose end, I put it aside with a sigh.

But with Dad on my mind this week because of the poignant anniversary, I decided to adopt a Repair Shop mindset and try to crack the tape open, determined to reattach the end of the tape to the spool so I could listen to the playback.

Well, to say it was fiddly is a gross understatement, but yesterday I did it - with the help of my magnifying over-glasses, the flat edge of a tiny sewing machine screwdriver and some narrow slices of Sellotape! Yay! Now I can get on with that transcription.

Dad’s teddy

So where does Dad’s old teddy come into this story, I hear you ask? I have to confess that Ted didn’t play any part in the tape restoration project, but he did play a part in my plans to commemorate yesterday’s significant anniversary, leading me to the discovery.

Ted has always looked a tad down-at-heel – well, he is very old, and that’s where this all started when we were wondering exactly how old he must be. Dad always used to say he’d had Ted as long as he could remember, and I had an idea I’d seen Ted in a photograph when Dad was a small child. I scoured the early photo albums and found this picture.

Could it be Ted that Dad is holding in his arms? If so – and estimating this photo to have been taken when Dad was about 4 years old, around 1933 – it would mean Ted’s approaching the grand age of 90. No wonder he looks so worn out!

There’s not a lot of Ted’s fur left and his growler no longer works. If I had the expertise of The Repair Shop’s “teddy bear ladies”, I’d unpick his body, give him a wash and replace his growler. But I don’t, and if I was to try I’d be worried he might totally disintegrate!

So instead, I decided to make Ted a new outfit in memory of Dad. And here Ted is wearing it… Very dapper, don’t you agree? I think it makes him look 20 years younger!

Family history discovery

And as for that family history discovery… it’s all in the photograph of Dad, my gran (behind him) and my great-grandmother (seated). Standing at the back, right, is my great aunt Annie – my gran’s sister, Mary Ann Diggory, who’d left the family home as a teenager and allegedly was not in touch again until she was an old lady.

I’d already debunked that myth up to a point, having discovered that Annie had returned to the area where she grew up after training as a nurse in Surrey, and had lived with her maternal aunt for at least nine years in Shrewsbury, not so very far from the rest of the family. But clearly, as this photograph shows, she’s definitely in contact at the time Dad was a small child. Had there been a reconciliation when she’d returned to live with her aunt?

But this is 1933. Two years later, Annie would become the sole beneficiary of her Aunt Mary’s estate, giving her enough capital to buy her own house. Knowing what a divisive subject inheritance can be, I wondered – had the bequest caused a rift within the family? Because by this time, Annie would cite friends Mr & Mrs Edwin Murrell, the couple she lived with for several years after the death of her aunt, as her “next of kin” and not her family, although both her parents were still alive at the time.

I guess there are always questions to which we may never know the answers.


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